Pater Edmund has an excellent four-part series on the reconcilability of Dignitatis Humanæ with the Catholic Church’s traditional condemnation of religious liberty and the duty of states to protect the true faith. On the face, Vatican II’s endorsement of religious liberty contradicts solemnly defined prior teaching, which would call the Church’s reliability in general into question. In Part I, he reviews attempts by Catholics to prove compatibility which he regards as unsuccessful. In Part II, he defends the interpretation put forward by English philosopher Thomas Pink. Pink puts the Church’s teachings in the context of early-modern arguments about whether the state holds a monopoly on coercion or if the Church has her own coercive authority. Dignitatis Humanæ states that the state has no authority of coercion in matters of religion, which is traditional doctrine, and it doesn’t condemn the other traditional doctrine that the Church does have such authority and can delegate it to the state. The only new thing in Dignitatis Humanæ on this reading is that the Church revokes this authority from the state, a matter of policy rather than doctrine. Part III is a historical overview of Church-state relations in Western Christendom focusing on issues of religious coercive authority and its source. Part IV concerns the disagreements of mid-twentieth century theologians on the relationship between Church and state. It was the attempt to avoid pronouncing on unsettled questions that led the Council Fathers to adopt such a confusing (and if Pink is right, even deceptive) document.
The Pink thesis succeeds in keeping a number of Magisterial claims from contradicting one another, although the liberal rights/dignity framing of the Vatican II teaching is still a problem. If true, it means the real Protestant worries weren’t addressed at all. It would have been more honest of the Council Fathers to have stated things clearly and then written about the limits justice imposes on how the Church may utilize coercion. I don’t have a good sense of what the Church’s coercive power in matters of belief should look like, I suppose because of my contamination with Hobbesian ideas linking coercion with the state. Also, I now realize that some of what I wrote in my Conservative Vision of Authority is heretical and must be revised. I thank Pater Edmund for this service.
Part IV, by the way, has some useful information about how the “pure nature” debate fed into the Church’s response to liberalism, something we’ve just been talking about here.
In the 1950s the Jesuit Fr. John Courtney Murray tried to prove the compatibility of Catholicism and American political philosophy.
Murray’s argued for an even stricter separation of Church and state than Maritain. Murray founds this separation on a strict distinction of nature and grace— the state as a community rooted in natural law has a different end from the Church, the Church’s end being given by grace. As the Murray scholar Leon Hooper, S.J., put it:
[In] this world there are two sources of moral authority. Early on these were for Murray the state and the church, or, more generally, the natural law and the revealed law. Later they became civil societies and religious communities, or the secular and the sacred. Each of the two orders is differently based (in creation and redemption) and is directed toward different ends (civic friendship and eternal beatitude). Each can legitimately claim its own autonomy.
This would seem to confirm Michael Paterson Seymour’s worries about the philosophy of pure nature promoting secularism. On the other hand, de Lubac promoted the independence of the state from the opposite premiss:
As we saw in Calvin’s case, a monistic view of the relation of nature and grace leads to exaggeratedly dualistic view of the relation of Church and state, and so it is no surprise that de Lubac’s slight tendency toward a monism of grace leads him to exaggerate the autonomy of the state. Thus already in 1932 de Lubac denied that the state ought to be juridically subordinated to the Church, arguing that just as grace transforms nature from within, the Church should inspire the state through the hearts of its citizens, but without giving it external commands:
The law of the relations between nature and grace, in its generality, is everywhere the same. It is from within that grace seizes nature, and, far from diminishing nature, raises it up, in order to make it serve its (grace’s) own ends. It is from within that faith transforms reason, that the Church influences the state. As the messenger of Christ, the Church is not the guardian of the state; on the contrary she ennobles the state, inspiring it to be a Christian state and thereby more human.
De Lubac thus went further than Maritain, whose disciple Charles Journet he cites unfavorably, since de Lubac considers a potestas indirecta of the Church over temporal affairs illegitimate at all times.
So, does this mean that the nature/grace debate was orthogonal to the Church’s capitulation to liberalism? In fact, the author suggests that both sides started from the same misunderstanding, leading them to the same mistake by different paths.
n the aftermath of the Council, in his preface to a German translation ofAugustinisme et théologie modern, de Lubac complained of a “rising tide of immanentism,” that was trying to “dissolve the Church into the world,” and against which de Lubac wanted to preserve the distinction between nature and grace. Before and during the Council, however, he saw the danger as coming primarily from the other direction— from those who made that distinction too sharp, separating nature and grace too much. This is the problem that we saw in John Courtney Murray. While de Lubac recognized this problem clearly, recent work by theologians such as Steven Long suggests that he misidentified its roots. De Lubac argued that the problem lay in the idea of “pure nature” ordered to a natural end intelligible in abstraction from grace. But Long has convincingly argued that the real problem lies in a conception of nature that is not theonomic enough, a conception that makes nature appear as a closed system indifferent toward the divine. De Lubac’s misidentification of the root of the problem leads him to postulate a natural desire for a supernatural end, an idea that tends towards a monism of grace.
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